Easter Week 2: “Between universalism and regionalism: Nakai Takenoshin’s research on colonial Korean plants and Japanese universal systematics”

Summary of the talk that Lee Jung (Needham Research Institute) gave at Cabinet on the 5th May 2014.

Nakai Takenoshin

Nakai Takenoshin

My talk was about the internationally recognized Japanese systematist Nakai Takenoshin (中井猛之進, 1882-1952, the imposing looking guy in the picture), professor at Tokyo Imperial University and the sole non-Western member appointed to the International Committee on Botanical Nomenclature in 1926. I focused on his research on Korean plants, the base of his botanical career, in comparison with those of other European and non-European practitioners in botany. My aim was two-folded. Firstly, I sought to demonstrate how the contested botanizing in colonial Korea shaped Nakai’s systematics characterized by attention to small morphological detail and his various claims for universal validity of his systematics. Secondly, thorough these changing claims of universality, I wanted to expand the ongoing discussion on the universality and regionality of science by shifting focus from their European origin to this non-European end. I argued that to understand how the universality of European science seemed intact in the emergence of more and more regionally variant sciences, we have to see what the universality meant for non-European scientists like Nakai. I think I showed that for him, universalism and regionalism were not contradictory ideologies about scientific practice but very useful tools to keep his scientific career as the representative Japanese systematist. And I hope that it also sheds some new light on the meaning of the universality of ‘European science’ as well.

I want to thank my friends who came to support me on the bank holiday and all the usual cabinet members who made helpful comments and interesting questions, while possibly suffering from some minor culture shock due to so many ‘unfamiliar pictograms’ on the slides.


Flora Sylvatica Koreana

Flora Sylvatica Koreana (1928) [Source: openlibrary.org]


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